DOT Sec. Jimenez: The right choice?
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O Abalos () - September 5, 2011 - 12:00am

As Denis Waitley puts it, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them”. PNoy, in appointing a new DoT (Department of Tourism) chief, clearly accepted the responsibility for changing conditions of the country’s tourism industry.

To recall, early in August, PNoy made an undiplomatic but honest disclosure that he had three (3) headaches in his cabinet. With the current state of the country’s tourism industry of public knowledge, then DoT Secretary Lim was singled out as one of them.   True enough, as expected, Sec. Lim left and took the more lucid way of tendering his resignation and walk through the exit door with his dignity intact. 

Then, in my August 15th piece, I pointed out that, as usual, speculations followed as to who should replace him as PNoy opted to reveal his choice at the end of August. Several names were then floated. As I have mentioned, leading the shortlisted prospects was Ramon Jimenez, an alumnus of the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts and founder of an award-winning advertising firm. Included in such list were Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, former Akbayan party-list representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and talent manager Boy Abunda.

My take then on this concern (in my August 15 piece) was for PNoy to consider some unadulterated facts in making his choices. For one, he must consider evaluating the country’s current tourism state. To reiterate, first and foremost, I emphasized that he must be aware that in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011 (TTCR 2011), while other lower ranked countries in 2009 have moved up, the Philippines declined farther down to the cellar. In such survey on 139 economies, the Philippines was ranked 94th overall. This is a very sad 94th place out of 139 considering that in 2009 we were ranked 86th out of 133 countries. Worst, among ASEAN countries included in the survey, we were way below Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam. If there was a consolation, we were a little better than the then civil war-ravaged countries of Cambodia and Timor-Leste.

The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011 report had three main components. These are the “regulatory components”, “business environment and infrastructure”, and “human, cultural and natural resources”. In such report, it was encouraging that we ranked 75th in the area of “human, cultural and natural resources”. It was a great recognition of what nature has endowed us. However, such rank was pulled down by our performances in “regulatory components” which was a mediocre 98th place and in “business environment and infrastructure” which was a negligible 95th. Thus, overall, we placed 94th.

Whether PNoy considered these facts in making his choice, we do not know. However, I honestly feel that one of the respected CEOs in the country today has a sound take on who could have been the next tourism czar. As a reaction of my August 15, 2011 piece, on the same day, Mr. Jos Ortega had this to say:

“I just read your column on the next tourism czar.  I totally agree with all of your points.  I come from the advertising industry and have been fortunate enough to work on the international tourism campaigns of Sec. Gonzalez and again, for Sec. Gordon.  I have seen how both succeeded in increasing the number of inbound tourists.  However, I have also witnessed how the increases were constrained by the lack of infrastructure and generally weak products.  And yes, there are never enough funds for promotions.

The only build I have on your opinion is that I believe that P-Noy should take on the role as Tourism Czar.  Yes, he should appoint a capable DoT secretary based on your criteria.  However, let us face the reality that the DoT secretary cannot dictate upon the other cabinet secretaries who are on his same level.  He can only request.  P-Noy can command and make things happen.

I have another company that specializes in corporate brand transformation.  It applies a system-wide approach to change within the organization.  Based on our experience with major companies, transformation can only happen if the CEO owns the process.  Simply put, the marketing director will not take directions from the HR director.  The sales director will not take orders from the manufacturing director.  They can only request.  It is only when the CEO personally owns the program that corporate brand transformation occurs.

As you say, tourism is one of the key drivers of our economic growth.  Thus, it should be important enough for P-Noy to take on personally.

P-Noy personally took on the anti-corruption program.  That is good.  We see changes happening.  This will definitely control our expenses and we can spend the savings wisely into other projects.  As like running a business, he is controlling costs, which is good.  But now, he needs to generate revenues.  I believe tourism is his primary vehicle.  If done properly, it immediately creates jobs.  If widely successful, it improves the country’s image and it will encourage foreign investments across all industries, beyond tourism.

Tourism needs a FULLY-INTEGRATED APPROACH.  Yes, it is way beyond just branding.  It needs the primary attention of the most senior government official in our land, the president.  P-Noy needs a success story.  This is it.  To make it happen, P-Noy must take on the critical role of TOURISM CZAR.

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for allowing me to share my views.”

Due to the profoundness of this man’s take on the country’s tourism industry, I took time on browsing the internet. I’m so impressed to share with you that Mr. Jos Ortega is the CEO of JWT (then named J. Walter Thompson) Manila. JWT is one of the largest advertising agencies in the United States and the fourth-largest in the world. Headquartered in New York, JWT was named Adweek magazine’s 2009 “Global Agency of the Year”. 

Today, while Mr. Ortega’s choice should have been PNoy, we all know that Mr. Jimenez is the new tourism czar. Right after he took his oath (he declined to provide details as to how he should run the department), he emphasized that branding will be a priority. Or simply, a slogan or a tagline should, first and foremost, be coined before anything else.   Honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. However, he must realize that, for all intents and purposes, a slogan is just an advertising phrase. As such, investments poured into such advertising effort or promotion will only translate into profits if the products or services offered approximate the representation it makes. Otherwise, sustainability is not even an issue worth delving in. It is practically dead from the very beginning.  

Therefore, he must be reminded that as the TTCR 2011 revealed, whoever should take the handle of DoT must address the need for good regulatory components as well as better business environment and infrastructure.

Indeed, inarguably, tourism is significant due to the huge intake of money for businesses. Undeniably, the tourism industry favorably affects many industries. It offers a lot of employment opportunities in the service industries associated with it.   However, just because there is a huge market is not enough reason for us to join the bandwagon. A huge potential market doesn’t assure us of success. This potential market is knowledgeable enough to know where to spend their time and money. Without doing an honest assessment of our real worth or capabilities, we will only end up salivating while staring at a huge market that we can’t tap. Bluntly, we shall be starving on the prospect of having a share of the pie while other countries are feasting on them.

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